Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Would you buy a used satellite from this man?

The French newspaper Le Monde has today reported on the Galileo story, the system having been given the go-ahead on 10 December by the transport ministers of the 25 EU member states.

What makes this report interesting is that the newspaper goes out of its way to emphasise that the system is intended only for civilian use. Unlike the GPS developed under the direction of the American army, it claims, Galileo will have to exclude military applications.

In a detail that was curiously absent from the commission press statement, we are told that this was the condition imposed by the transport ministers of the 25, in order to keep on board the "sceptics" such as the UK, which intends to keep using the US system. This applied particularly to the high definition encrypted PRS signal, which must be confined to civilian applications. Thus civilian-only application was "set in stone" (coulée dans le marbre).

Galileo was confirmed by the member states as "a civilian programme under civil control" and only on the basis of that assurance was the go-ahead given. Any change from that principle will require a unanimous decision, allowing the UK, or the Netherlands, says Le Monde, to veto military use of Galileo.

Furthermore, the British insisted that the tariffs applied to the PRS were calculated on a cost-only basis, with no profit margin for private operators, that only those countries interested in using PRS would finance that part of the system, and that NATO should continue to use only the US system.

With that green light, Jacques "Wheel" Barrot, the French commissioner in his humble role as transport commissioner, was able to announce an “historic decision”. (Curiously, his surname “Barrot” translates into English as "deck-beam" – as in "thick as two…?")

Says Le Monde, these restrictions could complicate the task of the private sector partners, which are expected to finance two thirds of the deployment phase and have an interest in ensuring that applications are as broad as possible. But one of the consortia interested in bidding for the project dismissed the restraint, saying that PRS did not contribute much to the finances.

And, despite the euphoria from Barrot, it emerges that no financial contribution will be forthcoming from the Community, which is expected to be about €1 billion, until the EU budget has been settled for 2007-2013. Nevertheless, Barrot made a point of assuring journalists that these uncertainties would not stop the private sector from going ahead.

In another delicious irony, "private sector" in French reads as le secteur privé, which can also be translated as "deprived sector". With M. Barrot around, that may well be the case, when the charge for his services is extracted.

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